What are the Causes of Tightness in Jaw and How to Treat it?

Human jaw is most important part of the face, without which it is impossible to chew and swallow the food. Human jaw is a bony structure that protects the inside of the mouth. The upper jaw is fused with the skull, while the lower jaw is movable, and it is hinged with the temporal bone on either side. Though, jaw bone is tough, sometimes you may experience pain and tightness in jaw. This is usually the result of complex temporomadibular joint disorder. It is the joint that connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the temporal (skull) bone.

You can feel the joint when you place your finger in front of your ear and open your mouth. Any disorder in temporomandibular joint may cause tightness and pain in the jaw when you open your mouth.

Causes of Tightness in Jaw

In most people tightness in jaw is not a serious problem, except for the pain tightness that persists while attempting to open the mouth. Here are few common causes for tightness in jaw.

Teeth grinding and clenching of teeth causes spasms of the muscle of the joint. Many medical fraternity members believe teeth grinding as the root cause for tightness in jaw. Eating very hard food such as cracking beetle nuts with your teeth, or constantly chewing gum can strain the muscle of temporomadibular joint and cause stiffness.

Jaw bone deformity or derangement, arthritis of the TMJ, can cause pain and stiffness of jaw. Arthritis in its severe form may cause locking of jaw and you may find difficulty in eating food due to restricted movement of the jaw.

Accidental injury or a blow on the temporomadibular joint can result in pain and stiffness of jaw.

Dental condition is also one factor that results in stiffness and pain in the jaw.

If you are old and you feel stiffness in jaw after doing exertion work or just climbing stairs, be careful as it can be a sign of some major heart illness. Occasionally coronary artery disease causes referred pain and stiff sensation in the jaws.

Last but not the least, emotional stress and depression has been cited frequently to cause spasms of the jaw muscles.

Symptoms of Tightness in Jaw Muscles

There may be aching pain in front of the ear on opening the mouth.

A characteristic clicking sound is heard while chewing or opening the mouth.

Tightness in jaw causes restricted opening of mouth and you may not be able to chew food properly. The muscles around the jaw feel tender.

Generally the pain is one sided, however it is not always so in some cases the pain occurs on both side.

Tightness is often felt when you wake up in the morning and this is due to spasm of jaw muscles. People clench and grind their teeth more at night which they may be unaware of.

How to Treat Tightness in Jaw

Since there are many factors responsible for feeling of tightness in jaw, each person has to be evaluated individually. Once the reason behind the stiffness of jaw is known, it becomes easy to treat the condition. In many cases, the feeling of discomfort caused due to TMJ disorder is transitional; it may or may not need any treatment at all.

Treatment with home remedies and self care brings lot of relief in muscle spasm and tightness.

  • Apply heat pad or hot compresses on the affected side of the jaw. It alleviates pain as well as spasms that produce tightness of the jaw muscles.
  • Try to eat soft diet for few days when tightness is acute. Eat porridge, soups and pastas. Chew slowly and eat smaller bites. Avoid hard foods.
  • Avoid yawning with opening your mouth wide open. This will put more strain on already strained jaw muscles. While yawning hold your chin in place with your fingers.
  • If you are suffering from arthritis you may need to take medications prescribed by your doctor.
  • Confirm with your dentist whether there is any dental cause associated with the jaw tightness.
  • If you are sure the reason behind your pain and tightness in jaw is stress and depression, try to pin point the source of unhappiness and do what you can to alleviate it. Meditation and yoga are best.
  • Mild and gentle massage can contribute a healing touch when there is tightness in jaw.

2 comments


  1. LInda

    I have been dealing with tight jaw since I was in my 30′s and I am in my 50′s now and it seems that my jaw has gotten tighter as I have gotten older. I was wondering if a mouth guard could help me in this matter. Please advise me.

  2. Brad

    My wife saw a chiropractor for a while that was able to reduce her jaw tension. She also used a mouth guard and has had a lot of success with it. I have jaw tension too from a combination of stress, sitting too much facing a computer, and just bad ergonomics at my workstation. For me, I feel much better when I can lean back and stop using my neck muscles to support my head. I believe that the muscles on the front of my neck are strained and cause my jaw muscles to try to compensate. Allergies can also contribute either directly or indirectly.

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